We’ve all heard the phrase “you are what you eat.” In literal terms, this means that in order to be fit and healthy, you really should eat healthy foods. Figuratively, it could be a metaphor that your diet could describe you as a person. I like to use the phrase in a different way. Over the past few years – since college really – I’ve become very interested in how media effects people. That in itself is a huge topic, and I’d like to address a few more aspects to that question in the future.
This week on Most Heroic, we’ll be exploring how the phrase, “you are what you eat,” can reveal a lot about yourself, especially if you think about that phrase in terms of stories.
Learn from Example
Here at Renegade Cinema, there are several of us who are Stephen King fans. Shawn in particular is a big fan, and he’s currently writing a book on Stephen King’s “Dollar Babies.” I myself consider King to be one of the two biggest influences on my own writing, second only to Alan Moore.
Since King is one of the most successful writers of our time, aspiring writers often ask him for advice. After years of being asked this question, he’s thought of a great go-to answer that involves only two simple rules. The first one is “Write a Lot.” That’s pretty self-explanatory. You need to practice your technique and hone your craft to discover your own voice. The second rule is “Read a Lot.”
Like the first rule, this one has some pretty obvious implications. While you’re doing your best to teach yourself how to write, you have to read different examples to make yourself a better writer and thinker by learning from others. You could try to learn dialogue from Elmore Leonard, flow from Ernest Hemingway, and emotion from Larry McMurtry. You could also analyze what these people did, what their strengths and weaknesses were, and then craft your own story from what you learned.
George R.R. Martin was able to create his vision for his series A Song of Ice and Fire, by finding out what the major cliches and conventions were for epic fantasy, and then add a few twists that weren’t there before. In my opinion, by using that approach to the work of J.R.R. Tolkien, he eventually became the only fantasy writer to reach the same level of respect and influence on the genre as Tolkien himself.
The metaphor doesn’t just work for books. Sergio Leone, the great Western director behind classics like The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly and Once Upon a Time in the West, was an ardent admirer of the work of John Ford. Leone wanted his films to have the same visual scale as Ford’s but add some elements of cynicism and pessimism that he felt was missing.
Bringing this back to Stephen King, by reading his books, I can learn how to easily provide good backstory for characters, allow myself to get inside their heads, and make the reader feel like the characters feel. With Neil Gaiman, I can learn how to let my imagination run wild. With Martin and Larry McMurtry, I can learn how to break hearts when a beloved character dies.
Which brings me to my next point.
You Are Changed By What You Eat
Think of what religious texts do. The stories in the Torah, the New Testament, and the Qu’ran, all help teach the values that their respective religious cultures want you to learn. Billions of people around the world form their lives by what those three books say, and what they choose to adopt from them.
If using the religious texts doesn’t work, you can use fine literature. Sometimes you can learn more from the examples of fictional characters. You can learn integrity and honor from the models of Atticus Finch in To Kill A Mockingbird, or Thomas More in A Man for All Seasons. You can learn the danger of jealousy from the example of Othello.
You can also develop different morals and opinions by different art forms. After watching Dead Man Walking, I really don’t know how to feel about the death penalty. But after reading To Kill A Mockingbird and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, I learned how to hate racism, slavery, prejudice, and corruption.
Which brings me to my next point.
Who Are You?
I’ve always said that you can tell quite a lot about a person by looking at their favorite pieces of art within a genre.
If I were to say to you that Superman is my favorite superhero, you could presume that I am an idealist who tries to help people and be the best man that he can be. If I mentioned how much I identified with Clark Kent, you could then presume that I am more shy, quiet, distant, and don’t get out too much. Maybe you could guess that I am a writer myself, and that I trained as a reporter.
If chose Spider-Man instead of Superman, you could presume some similar things, but with different elements. You could presume that I feel the world is always against me, and things don’t seem to go my way. Perhaps you could make some guesses about my sense of humor by thinking of how Spidey banters with his villains.
If I told you that I preferred Silence of the Lambs over Texas Chainsaw Massacre, you could guess that I was more intimidated by the more cerebral threat of Hannibal Lecter over the more visceral Leatherface.
The possibilities are endless on what are favorite art forms and subjects say about us. Who and what are your favorites in art? What do they say about you as a person?
Hell, my weekly column is about heroes. What does that tell you?
I’m Jesse Blume and this is Most Heroic.
Next Week on Most Heroic, we will explore some moments in video games that could help cultivate moments of heroism.